BVA OPS Participants Run in California International Marathon

By BVA Member Tim Hornik

For the first time, the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) through the Operation Peer Support (OPS) committee sponsored and represented the BVA during the California International Marathon (CIM) held in Sacramento on Sunday, December 6th, 2015. The CIM brings together hundreds of runners, over 2,000 volunteers, a 2 day exposition center, and qualification for the Boston Marathon. The CIM features a visually impaired runners category, through the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA). Visually impaired runners from across the country flocks towards the USABA’s CIM participation thanks to the generosity of donors, like the BVA OPS committee, and grants, like the VA adaptive sports grants. In total, 48 marathon runners (11 of whom who were Veterans) and over 60 sighted guides demonstrated how blindness needs not slow one down.

For the 2015 CIM, the BVA possessed runners on two teams. The primary BVA team consisted of Richard Hunter; Timothy Hornik, guided by Dr. Robert Chen; Danny Wallace, guided by Delta Gamma’s Andrea Witherspoon; and Travis Fugate, guided by Brad Morris. This team finished the relay in 3 hours and 54 minutes, exceeding the average marathon time of 4 hours and 21 minutes. Dale Stamper, guided by Dan Tyree, ran the final leg of another blinded Veteran team. We each owe our sighted guides, Rob, Andrea, and Brad much credit for their willingness to volunteer to lead the way. Dr. Rob Chen is very familiar with the BVA, as he participated in a Australian Iron Man earlier this year, donating the proceeds to the Major Robert Soltes Memorial Golf Tournament which is Operation Peer Support’s primary supporter. He and his wife, Bonnie, have been friends with Dr. Sally Dang and Major Soltes, after meeting in Texas after medical school. Andrea Witherspoon is a Delta Gamma Alumni, and Captain in the US Army. She represented Delta Gamma after winning a national contest to run with a blinded Veteran during the CIM. Brad Morris is Travis’ friend and esteemed business partner and co-founder of their company Graphspan. We could not have run the CIM without their enduring service to us.

The visual impairment portion of the CIM would not be possible were not for the efforts of Richard Hunter. Richard is a blinded Veteran, having served in the 1990’s who lives the BVA motto of assisting his blinded peers through his selfless service advocating for visually impaired endurance sports. Around 2007, he approached the CIM’s organizers about included a visually impaired category, similar to the Boston and New York marathons. They immediately concurred with his request and allowed him to aid in the development of the visual impairment category. What started as 2 visually impaired runners in 2007 evolved into 48 visually impaired runners and roughly 60 sighted guides today.

The BVA OPS’ committee’s involvement in the CIM extend beyond the participation in the CIM, but acted as a catalyst to promote the Blinded Veterans Association amongst the visually impaired Veterans runners, USABA, and Delta Gamma. The USABA is the premier organization for blinded Veterans interested in becoming athletes and participating in the world games or para-Olympics. The USABA, through a VA adaptive sports grant, made attendance by all of the USABA members who are Veterans possible by covering their travel and lodging costs. Looking into the future, it’s feasible through a unified BVA and USABA advocacy campaign we might succeed in efforts to increase the number of visually impaired adaptive sporting events, at the VA's Golden Ages Games or President George Bush's Invictus game. Currently, blinded Veterans are marginalized in these disabled recreation programs to just one or two events.

The most beneficial aspect of the BVA OPS participation involves networking with Delta Gamma. Delta Gamma is a sorority, whose Greek letters represents their motto, “Do Good.” Both the mission of their sisters and foundation aims to serve individuals with visual impairments, stemming from their 1936 National Convention when a visually impaired member conveyed the need to support individuals with sight loss. Those with visual impairments benefited from Delta Gamma’s volunteers, as the sisters acted as sighted guides at meals, conducted guided walking tours throughout Sacramento, and even during the CIM run.>As part of the Joining Forces, Delta Gamma reconfirmed its commitment to aiding those with visual impairments, by seeking opportunities to serve visually impaired Veterans. Demonstrating Delta Gamma’s Joining Forces goal, a national contest promised either a Delta Gamma sister or alumni the chance to serve as the sighted guide of a blinded Veteran. It’s inspiring to reflect on how Delta Gamma instills the motivation in its sisters and alumni to serve those with visual impairments, considering the winner coveted the chance to guide a blinded Veteran.

Based on these experiences, Dale, Danny, Travis, and Tim unanimously agreed returning to the CIM next year will benefit the BVA. However, running in the relay team will not suffice, as each set a goal to either complete the half or full marathon. This first year in the CIM allowed us to witness the value attending such events, and it’s the hope of these attendees to ensure more USABA and BVA members may participate in the future.

For more information about the visually impaired Veteran runners, visit the USABA blog here.

Click here to view pictures of the BVA CIM Runners

To view all of the USABA photos of the CIM, visit their Facebook pages.